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Memory 18 - Chris Gidden - 1963-1970

Chris Gidden - Memories of RAF Marham 1963-1970

Just a rookie having left boys at St Athan in July 1963, my first posting was to the AES at Marham, Aircraft Engineering Squadron was responsible for the second line support, and third line prep and recovery of the Valiant bombers belonging to 49, 148, 207 and 214 Squadron, and also to support the team over the back which was Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). This was a round the clock station, meals and support 24 hours a day, logistics spares could be on the road to the unit at any time, a surprise to be in the real world on the front line of the RAF.

I was proud to have passed out as a SAC direct, and it was to the chagrin of the Chief in the electrical bay who did not think much of the ex-boys at any rank. The bay was in three hanger at this time and the work was steady with hectic phases for TAC-evals, usually on the early hours of a Monday morning. The bay was run by a chief Technician and a Flight Sergeant. The first gave all the technical orders and jobs and the latter the discipline matters. I learnt that the Flight Sergeant could be quite lowly qualified technically, but had an equivalent status as the chief, a great fuss was ensuing as the Flight Sergeants tried to get technically qualified so they would get additional pay as the Chief Technician did. A lot was very successful in that year!

I turned out that in 1964 the trade and grade structure would be radically altered and the distinction of flight Sergeant and Chief would be changed as would be the direction of chevrons. There were many enraged Chiefs over this who had only recently qualified from Flight Sergeant, then to find that the rank structure would be now be Sergeant, Chief Technician with normal direction chevrons and a wheel, then Flight Sergeant (Chevrons and a crown), then Warrant Officer.

In January of 1963 the ability would be available to take direct examinations on the station for promotions at all levels, including from Senior Aircraftsman to Junior Technician; normally one would go on an eighteen-month fitters course for this elevation. Three hundred on Marham applied, my Chief and Engineering officer tried to refuse to put me forward as they also did to several other entrants who had recently passed out. I argued that the rules did not say that any time had to elapse and for them to put into writing why I should not be given the opportunity. They reluctantly relented, the result was that a rigger and my self who were ex 48th entry boys' passed with about thirty others out of the three hundred entrants. I think my Chief was not very happy as there were two other in the bay who did not manage a good result, I had no comment, just down to the stores to get my uniforms altered, with the usual comments from a lot of amazed airman.

I had also applied to escape El Adam with grass as Marham was nicknamed, and had volunteered to go to Australia, and that came in shortly after and after eighteen months at Marham I departed for the Dessert of Woomera. Civilianisation of the rocket ranges meant that a three-year tour terminated after eighteen months, my three choices omitted Marham and anything to do with that establishment. So I was repatriated back to Marham! I was allocated to ------- AES again.

Well it was now October 1964, I had remembered most of the nice things about the Valiant, you could stand upright in the cockpit without bashing your head, If anything went wrong it was electrical, very little hydraulics, a 24votl and 112 volt power systems. Some of the equipment was very awkward to get to, but the Bombay compartment hid a high density of electrical odds and ends of fuel controls. It seemed everywhere I went there were problems the Valiant's were grounded in December, everyone was in gloom as we watched the deep strip of one of the Aircraft in hanger one to expose fully the main spars. People came people went and it was decided to saw great section out of both spars, this was destructive testing, as this one would not fly again it was stripped of everything and disassembled on the site, Christmas was here, the aircraft were taxied on a regular basis, the aircrew were worried about their flying pay and so it went on. On Thursday 21st January 1965 we were working on the line opposite the hangers. We were working over there with our experience to assist change of an awkward fuel pump in the bomb bay. It was very awkward stuck behind a lot of plumbing and valves. It was about seven in the evening, a guy came running out of their squadron crew room shouting the aircraft are scrapped. We all thought he had a turn. He said he had just heard it on the radio. Normal protocol would be an immediate signal to the Station Commander before any public information. Everybody was stunned, it had transpired that the Secretary of State for defence had stood up in the Commons and just stated that the fleet would be scrapped, before the messages could be relayed through the usual channels. The station was in uproar as nobody knew what to do next - continue stops - stand down. At nine a Tannoy message was broadcast that the station was to stand down, and all personnel were to report to their sections by nine in the morning. It was then with great sadness that it was confirmed, very shortly postings out were coming in thick and fast, the routine orders had pages of drafts out, in fact the station was depleted of most trades and only Aircraft electricians were left, we were lent out to all sorts of duties to keep the station going, I went into the telephone exchange, which was very good insight in to the communications world.

In the middle of February the klaxons/sirens went off for operation Taceval - everybody fell about laughing with disbelief. Somebody had forgot we did not have an operational Aircraft except the Station flight which was declared ready!

The Station by March/April 1965 had gone from nearly 2,000 operational personnel to about 300, the aircraft were towed to the old runway where they were dismembered sawn and cut apart. One airframe had a feasability repair done and it was decided it would go on a stand outside the operations block as the first nuclear V bomber.

I worked in the telephone exchange for about a year, the station was rumoured to be closing to care and maintenance, now down to very few people. The housing prices in the surrounding area of Kings Lynn were desperate, businesses were dying the whole local economy was devastated.

The nearby station of Honington who had Victors, was already trialing in-flight refuelling using the pods, which were found to be successful. Their runways were being completely taken up and being relayed with new surfaces, so the aircraft operated from Marham, and were serviced at Honington, the Airfield opened a few hours each week to allow the exchange of aircraft. This went on for about nine months. After a lot of political pressure the Victor squadrons and facilities were moved to Marham. It was decided that its main runway would also be completely refurbished so again the operations were split between the two stations as the squadrons moved across and into both technical and domestic accommodation. When in July 1966 214 squadron was reformed, and normal tradesmen started to arrive back, I ceased the secondment to the telephone exchange and was posted to 214 squadron. As the history of the squadron was in flight refuelling, it received all its aircraft as K1b's three pointers, The equipment was similar to the original Valiant but the electric motors were now ac 400hz. and a lot of hydraulics. The other squadrons 55, 57 started with two pointers, and fed them back to be converted to three. With three pointers, the Bomb bay Fuel tanks were made to measure and held a lot more fuel than the ferry tank style of the original two pointers. We hardly were at Marham, and we were doing trips either down the route to Malaya and Singapore, or to Canada and the states in support of other operations.

I stayed at Marham until 1970 where I went on for retraining in electronics.

Chris Gidden:
chris@chg.me.uk

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